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Chapter 3.5 Tools and approaches

Context analysis


Context can be defined as ‘the environment and circumstances within which something happens and which can help to explain it’.+L. Campbell, What’s Missing? Adding Context to the Urban Response Toolbox (London: ALNAP/ODI, 2018) (, p. 11. The aim of context analysis is to ‘help humanitarian actors have a better understanding of the dynamics in a given setting’.+IRC, Urban Context Analysis Toolkit. Guidance Note for Humanitarian Practitioners (London: IIED, 2017) (, p. 3. To these ends, while closely related to other forms of analysis, such as needs and vulnerability assessment, context analysis is more to do with understanding the unique aspects of a specific location, rather than the consequences of a disaster or conflict.

This section+This section benefited in particular from inputs by Leah Campbell of ALNAP. defines and discusses context analysis. It reviews a number of context analysis tools and outlines stakeholder analysis, network analysis, conflict analysis and governance analysis. The section provides links to other sources of information and further resources. It links closely to other sections, in particular assessments and profiling (Section 3.6) and monitoring and evaluation (Section 3.10).

Figure 3.6 What is context?


Source: L. Campbell, What’s Missing? Adding Context to the Urban Response Toolbox (London: ALNAP/ODI, 2018) (, p. 11.

 3.5.1 Different forms of context analysis

There are many kinds of context analysis, depending on what is being analysed. Examples include stakeholder analysis, market analysis, such as the Emergency Market Mapping and Analysis (EMMA) Toolkit,+EMMA is ‘an approach to assessing market systems in post-emergency contexts that aims to improve emergency responses by encouraging and assisting relief agencies to better understand, support and make use of local market systems in disaster zones’. See See also Section 3.3 on cash and markets. political analysis, governance analysis and conflict analysis. There are also many different tools for each form of analysis: concerning conflict analysis alone, one recent review+F. Oliva and L. Charbonnier, Conflict Analysis Handbook. A Field and Headquarter Guide to Conflict Assessments (Turin: United Nations Systems Staff College, 2016) ( found ‘literally dozens of conflict analysis tools’.

For a discussion of context analysis, see L. Campbell, What’s Missing? Adding Context to the Urban Response Toolbox (London: ALNAP/ODI, 2018) (

IRC’s Urban Context Analysis Toolkit, created specifically for urban situations, aims to ‘enable users to appreciate stakeholders, existing power relations, resource distribution, governance and legal frameworks, sources of livelihoods, social networks, and access to services’. The toolkit  covers: approaches to stakeholder analysis; opportunities to strengthen existing or future programming; and identifying entry points for programming and risk mitigation strategies. See

Box 3.9 Urban context overview and analysis in Juba

In 2016, World Vision undertook a context analysis in the South Sudanese capital Juba in order to ‘map, identify and understand the vulnerabilities faced by residents in Juba so that it, and other stakeholders could carry out the most efficient and effective interventions required by those in need’.

The study used three types of analysis: resilient systems, wellbeing mapping and gender. Resilience issues covered access to and use of resources and infrastructure, including utilities and public spaces, governance networks and social dynamics. Wellbeing mapping reviewed among other things wealth and income and access to public services. The gender analysis considered sex, age, culture and language.

Activities included key informant interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs). Secondary data reviewed included reports and related literature. FGDs took place in both wealthier and poorer parts of Juba. FGDs and interviews were carried out with the help of trained field assistants.

Programmatic recommendations for action derived from the analysis and associated activities included the need to ‘address social stresses and social cohesion’, ‘facilitate access to public services and resources’, and ‘make markets work for the poor and vulnerable’.

Source: Juba: Urban and Peri-urban Context Overview and Analysis, World Vision and the Start Network, 2017 (

 3.5.2 Stakeholder analysis

Many humanitarian organisations use stakeholder analysis in some form in their programming. Stakeholder analysis can be a ‘context tool’, but only if it is used to better understand the range of actors relevant, not just to one project, but to the context itself.

With this in mind, stakeholder analysis may be best described as ‘an approach, a tool or set of tools for generating knowledge about actors – individuals and organizations – so as to understand their behaviour, intentions, inter-relations and interests; and for assessing the influence and resources they bring to decision-making or implementation processes’.+Z. Varvasovszky and R. Brugha, ‘How to Do (Or Not to Do) … A Stakeholder Analysis’, Health Policy and Planning 15(3), 2000 ( Stakeholder analysis helps in understanding the interests and capacities of these actors, and the relationships (including conflicts, power dynamics and networks) between them (the range of urban stakeholders is discussed further in Section 1.5 on urban actors).

3.5.3 Network analysis

Social networks describe the connections between individuals, for example within organisations and communities.+IRC, Urban Context Analysis Toolkit. Social Network Analysis (SNA) is the process of mapping these relationships.+Ibid. SNA can help humanitarian organisations understand patterns of interaction between stakeholders,  as well  as a possible  lack  of connections. Impact Initiatives is developing a toolkit specifically for urban analysis, which uses SNA to identify key informants who can provide contextual information about a specific area. See

Further information about area-based approaches can be found in Section 3.2. Figure 3.7 gives an example of the results of a stakeholder analysis from Sierra Leone.

3.5.4 Conflict analysis

Conflict analysis considers the ‘broader range of issues which contribute to a conflict situation and within which it occurs’.+Saferworld et al., Conflict-sensitive Approaches to Development, Humanitarian Assistance and Peace-building: A Resource Pack (London: APFO, CECORE, CHA, FEWER, International Alert and Saferworld, 2004). An example of conflict analysis is the use of Participatory Violence Appraisal (PVA), which aims to identify ‘both tipping points of particular types of violence as well as violence chains, through the voices of local people themselves’.+See C. Moser, Understanding the Tipping Point of Urban Conflict: Participatory Methodology for Gender-based and Political Violence, Working Paper 2 (Manchester: University of Manchester, 2012). Examples of conflict analysis can be found at good-enough-context-analysis-rapid-response. For an example of the use of conflict analysis in DRC see For further information on conflict analysis more generally, see; conflict-sensitive-approaches-todevelopment-humanitarian-assistance-and-peace-building; and See also Section 1.2.1 on armed conflict.

Figure 3.7 Stakeholder analysis in Sierra Leone

Source: IRC, Urban Context Analysis Toolkit. Guidance Note for Humanitarian Practitioners (London: IIED, 2017) (

 3.5.5 Governance analysis

Governance analysis aims to ‘understand the range of structures, institutions and stake- holders/actors that have influence over responses to an urban crisis and the power dynamics at play within and between formal and informal institutions’.+A. Meaux and W. Osofisan, A Review of Context Analysis Tools for Urban Humanitarian Response (London: IIED, 2016) (, p. 10. Commonly used in the development sector, governance analysis is understood here as an umbrella term encompassing institutional and social analysis, power analysis and political economy analysis. Governance analysis is often used at macro (national) levels,+E. Boak, Education in Fragile Situations: A Review of Political Economy and Conflict Analysis Literature and Tools (Reading: Education Development Trust, 2011). ( but can also be used at other scales. Like the other kinds of context tools discussed here, governance analysis looks at trends and seeks to ‘move beyond a description of symptoms, and to understand the underlying causes’.+T. Dahl-Ostergaard et al., Lessons Learned on the Use of Power and Drivers of Change Analyses in Development Co-operation (Lyngby and Brighton: COWI/IDS, 2005) (, p. 3.

A number of governance analysis tools exist: examples include USAID’s Democracy, Human Rights and Governance Strategic Assessment Framework and DFID’s Drivers of Change. For further information on these and other tools, see R. Nash, A. Hudson and C. Luttrell, Mapping Political Context: A Toolkit  for  Civil  Society  Organisations (London:  ODI, 2006) (